Shen is the founder of The Swagger Salon – arguably the first local streetwear brand to prove that, well, local streetwear could be a thing. More infamously known for their appropriation of local Chinese slangs (and scantily-clad models adorning their products), the brand prides itself in typography, an oft-forgotten aspect of design, especially among competing streetwear brands here. JUICE thinks The Swagger Salon has earned their lansi cred, so we passed the pen to Shen – some major sonning is about to go down.
Writing about design is like listening to live football on the radio – no one really cares unless they have no choice.
But nevertheless, I’ll try.
And since we’ll be putting the subject of design into words, we might as well talk about the subject of words in design – typography.
Having had experiences in both commercial and independent design (advertising and street art, respectively), I find it rather insulting that typography is somehow always being taken for granted. Always overlooked and underrated, and more often than not, being the “by the way” element in an overall design.
While it’s forgivable in advertising since there’s usually more to an ad than just the choice of fonts for its headline (plus, there’s always some boring corporate identity guideline to adhere to), when it comes to local streetwear, it doesn’t seem to occur to some brands that having nothing but a one-word t-shirt design would mean having to at least put in some effort into the typography of the word!
But then again, it was probably that brand with the five-letter “L” word that started it all. I’m such a hypocrite, I know.
It isn’t an issue if you’re simply making statement tees for the sake of a quick buck from witty catchphrases or current trends, but if you call yourself a clothing brand, the least you could do is to make sure that your t-shirt design…has a design! All I see now are “logos” typed out with overused fonts (and bad kerning) on a t-shirt – with not even the slightest hint of actually structuring the fonts to make it your own, let alone designing your own typeface from scratch.
In fact, I don’t know why we still call it streetwear these days. It would be better off known as downloaded-fontwear.
Whatever happened to the real streetwear designers? The skilled illustrators, the graffiti writers, and even the tattoo artists. Why aren’t these artists and designers dominating the local streetwear clothing scene and spreading their art through clothing lines? Think Stussy, Rebel8, Benny Gold, and Mishka (not appalling new brands such as Been Trill and Pink Dolphin).
Is it because they don’t want to be seen as sell outs? Or are they simply contented with what they’re doing in their respective fields? Or have they all been shackled to the desks of advertising firms and design agencies? (Except the tattoo artists, of course. No one can shackle them to anything.)
While there are several prominent local brands run by respectable artists and designers with killer typography skills, a majority of brands prefer to just take the easy way out when it comes to the fonts in their designs. Like the art of hand-painted signages being killed off by vinyl stickers, original streetwear design is fast becoming a dying breed, thanks to the accessibility to online font libraries, the lack of knowledge on street culture, and lazy “designers” looking to make a quick buck by ripping off some other brand’s designs and calling it a parody. And I’m not even talking about all those “box tees”.
Real street artists need to start taking over the local streetwear industry not only to give the scene some substance that it is severely lacking, but also to lead the way and inspire other existing brands (that includes the aforementioned “L” word brand) with their design talent and skills – be it illustration or typography.
Maybe the local streetwear scene just needs one brand to start the trend, prompting the others to follow suit (like they always do), or to pull a Kendrick Lamar and bring the whole game up.
But then again, maybe streetwear fans don’t really care much about typography, anyway.
Now excuse me while I go print this whole thing on a t-shirt.